Utilities Manager: Color Your Lube Program Green
Kathy | August 1, 2008
Adopting “green practices” as a catalyst for change around your operations doesn’t have to be painful or expensive, but it does require open minds.
Things are changing around our plants and facilities these days. The exponential rise in energy rates coupled with a global shift toward protecting the planet and its resources has forced company after company to seek “greener” alternatives to their operating practices across the board. Growing out of the increased awareness and understanding of the challenges we face has been a real open-mindedness—even an eagerness—in implementing programs that benefit BOTH environmental and business goals.
If your company is going “green,” there is no better place to begin or enhance your efforts than by updating—or “greening”—your lubrication management program. It’s a simple rationale. Equipment wear is caused by friction. Choosing the wrong lubricant, applying a lubricant incorrectly and/or at the wrong time and allowing a lubricant to become contaminated are things that lead to excessive friction. That, in turn, manifests into higher energy requirements to overcome the increase in friction and abrasion that causes seal damage, which can result in environmentally-unfriendly leaks and spills.
Taking a “greener” approach in your lubrication efforts will result in signifi- cant energy-cost reduction, reduced lubricant inventories, reduced lubricant consumption, reduced lubricant spills, cleaner equipment, reclamation and reuse of existing lubricants, responsible disposal of old lubricants and substantial increases in equipment reliability, availability and throughput—for little or no capital outlay.
Check out the following seven tactics. Employing one, more, or preferably all of them will go a long way in coloring your lubrication program “green.”
Tactic #1: Lubricant Consolidation
Many companies will carry an inventory of 20 or more lubricants throughout their plant, often stored in half-open containers exposed to atmospheric contamination and in danger of being spilled. Remember, TODAY’s lubricants often are capable of out-performing many of YESTERDAY’s lubricants—products you have continued to purchase, stock and use over the past decades. Consolidation programs easily can reduce lubricant inventories by up to 75% or more, depending on the industry, lowering and purchase carry costs and simplifying lubricant application. Most importantly, consolidation forces you to inventory ALL of your lubricants in the plant, and list every storage location.
Consult with your lubricant suppliers about performing a lubricant consolidation exercise. Such a program typically is offered at little or no cost, in exchange for a blanket order that also can work in your favor by fixing lubricant costs for a set period.
Tactic #2: Contamination Control
Contamination is an enemy of both wear surfaces and lubricants. Fortunately, it can be controlled with a little effort and awareness. Contamination issues are largely caused by poor storage, handling and application practices. Fine-tolerance bearing surfaces and radial lip seals do not take kindly to lubricants carrying abrasive bodies to the wear surface. Why then, do some technicians/organizations continually grease nipples without first cleaning the grease gun and nipple, leave off reservoir lids and breather caps in hydraulic systems, leave off lubricant container lids, store barrels of lubricants outside and exposed to extremes in weather where they rust and collect water, and use non-dedicated and dirty lubricant transfer devices?
Review how you perform in keeping contaminants from entering your lubrication systems. Then, consider investing in better housekeeping practices and some of the many new dedicated transfer systems offered by your local industrial supplier.
Tactic #3: Filtration
Poor machine filter management can manifest as reduced lubricant flow, and cause the bypass of deadly wear contaminants to your bearing surfaces. Ensure that filter replacement is a high priority in your preventive maintenance program.
In an effort to conserve and reuse lubricants, an external pump/filtration cart can be used to clean your large reservoir lubricants and ready them for reuse. This will save on lubricant, change-out and disposal costs. Contact your local lubrication hardware or filter supplier for details on this type of easy-to-use system.
Tactic #4: Spill Containment
Oil spills are never easy to deal with. Prevention can result in a lot less effort should one occur. When storing lubricants ensure that all full or partially full containers are kept in an area protected by an impermeable berm that contains a spill in a localized area. The containment system can be a steel box tray, concrete berm system or one of the many plastic containment systems sold by your local industrial supplier. Don’t forget to keep a spill management kit on hand—just in case!
Tactic #5: Engineered Lubricant Delivery
Both under- and over-lubrication will cause a significant spike in energy requirements—one to overcome the metal-to-metal collision and the other to overcome fluid friction. Tuning your lubricant delivery can result in energy savings as high as 20%. Invest in a Lubrication Operation Effectiveness Review (LOER). Conducted by an accredited lubrication consultant, an LOER will provide recommendations on how to improve your current approach to delivering the right lubricant, in the right amount, in the right place, at the right time, whether from a grease gun or fully-automated system.
Tactic #6: Lubricant Disposal Program
In countless communities, local legislation is forcing companies to own their waste and put in place waste disposal plans or programs. Many companies operating under a consolidated program have been able to set up recycling programs wherein all their old reservoir lubricants are taken back, cleaned, reconstituted with additives and resold back to them as recycled oil—at savings of up to 25% of virgin oil. These programs save disposal costs and the environment, as well as reduce the costs to purchase new oil. Collecting oil by type makes it easier for the disposal company and reduces the disposal costs charged to you. Learn what program(s) your disposal company offers, then start capturing your own savings.
Tactic #7: Lubrication Training
A little basic lubrication training can ratchet up your team’s understanding and enhance your program significantly. While lubrication may appear to be very intuitive in nature, it is perhaps the least understood area of maintenance—and still responsible for up to 70% of all mechanical failures. Investing in a basic lubrication training course will facilitate your program immensely.
Now that you have these seven tactics down, get out your paintbrush. You’ll soon be on your way to successfully coloring your lubrication program GREEN.
Contributing Editor Ken Bannister is the author of the bestselling book, Lubrication for Industry (Industrial Press), and the author of the new lubrication section of the 28th edition of Machinery’s Handbook (Industrial Press). He conducts lubrication effectiveness reviews and training programs throughout industry. E-mail: kbannnister@ engtechindustries.com